Whenever there are man-made tragedies and natural calamities, we hear people say that these calamities are sent by God because of his wrath and punishment for our sins. Calamities, they say, are part of God’s will and God’s plan. We need to be careful, however, that this viewpoint does not give us a convenient way out of our own culpability for the tragedies and calamities like the destruction of nature and exploitation of our fellow humans. Although, calamities and tragedies may indeed become wake up calls and offer us golden opportunities for the reform of our lives. This should not, however, distort the very nature of God as loving and compassionate. Our Lord Jesus did not come to punish us through the disasters, but came to be one with us, to live amongst us in the midst of despair and destruction and guide us towards transformation and to bear fruit.
In the gospel of today’s 3rd Sunday of Lent, people approached Jesus asking about his view on a tragic incident. Pilate has murdered a number of Galilean people. Worse, Pilate has mixed their blood with that of sacrificed animals. In the highly politically charged atmosphere of Roman-occupied Palestine, this was a trap. If Jesus ignores this event, He will be accused of insensitivity to His people. But if He criticizes Pilate, He will probably be reported to the Roman authorities and be punished by them.
Jesus connected this tragedy to an accident involving construction workers in Siloam. From both events he draws a warning for Israel. What took place in Galilee and at Siloam were not judgments of God but a call to repentance. Unless the nation repents, it too will perish.
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”
The bottom line here is that we all need to repent. Am I so often focused on the evils to be uprooted that I neglect the need for personal reform as well? Repentance calls all of us at all times of our lives.
Paul, writing to the Corinthians, in the second reading today, conveys the same note of urgency and necessity for repentance. If the very people who experienced God’s liberating power in the Exodus could lose their sense of the divine presence sustaining and saving them, it requires all of us today not to remain complacent. In our own journey in the wilderness of life, we are subject to our own addictions and idolatries. Paul writes,
These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.
Luke shows the urgency of repentance in the parable of the fruitless fig tree. In the parable, the tree is symbolic. It stands for all of us who needs to heed Jesus’ call for repentance. Jesus’ call for repentance is our journey from fruitlessness to fruitfulness. In this journey, God constantly guide and transform us.
The merciful God who guides his people towards transformation is indicated by the name of God as revealed to Moses in the first reading from the book of Exodus. When Moses asked God what shall he call him, God responded, “I am who I am,” or, as many contemporary exegetes interpret it, “He causes to be what comes into existence.”
Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites:
I AM sent me to you.”
The unnameable God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the God who intervenes powerfully in human history. God saw the affliction of his people. He “comes down,” that is, intervenes in history out of his transcendence, to deliver them from the slavery of sin and to bring them into the land “flowing with milk and honey.” God called Moses and sent him to lead his people out of Egypt through the wilderness, refreshing them with water from the rock and bringing them into the Promised Land. Finally he sends his Son, offering his people the fullness of repentance by accepting his salvific and liberating life and mission.
The season of Lent is a most blessed time which calls all of us to a profound repentance. Thus, one of the highlights during Lent, is the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. During Lent, the church in many parishes abundantly celebrates the sacrament of reconciliation to give people plenty of opportunity to experience genuine repentance. Repentance is not just expressing true sorrow for our sins but the eager desire to rebuild anew our lives. Thus, repenting takes hard work that is why it is a discipline. The discipline of Lent entails hard-work repentance which leads to the new life that Easter promises.